Book bans often serve to protect young readers
This weekend marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, and for a few days schools and libraries will have to endure harassment as they carry out the business of caring for America's children.
A press release from the American Library Association, one of the event's sponsors, said restrictions, challenges or bans on books lead to an atmosphere of suppression. This fascist portrayal of the process of challenging or banning books is sensational and off target. There are times when public libraries or schools must, in the best interest of their visitors, remove or restrict books. There is no sinister conspiracy, merely an attempt to better serve the public.
Banned Books Week is a regular event designed to raise awareness of book bans, when a book is actually removed from store or library shelves, and book challenges, when a complaint is raised against a book and a ban is considered.
Opponents of book banning seem to believe bans infringe the Constitutional rights of American citizens, but such a notion is foreign to our governing documents.
If the government were prohibiting the publication of literature or if the state was encouraging nazi-style book burnings, there would be a problem. This, however, is not the case. The atrocities discussed in the Banned Book Week literature are mostly cases of schools debating the removal of books from their libraries. Such a decision could not offend American freedoms.
Americans are not granted to the right to free books. For that matter, there is no right to a government-underwritten education. The right to free speech does not require school or public libraries to stock everything available.
It is the responsibility of librarians, especially school librarians, to choose material appropriate for their visitors. There is nothing wrong with parents, school board officials or organizations encouraging librarians not to shelve books some consider inappropriate for the library's readers.
When a newsstand does not carry tabloids, it is not called censorship. When a grade school library does not shelf the law library it is not an attack on American's freedoms. Similarly there are times when a book's content means it should be removed from a library or its access should be monitored.
When libraries refuse to carry books, the rights of free speech and free press live on. Interested readers can still visit their local book seller or even order the literature on-line in the privacy of their own homes.
When books are banned from a library, it usually means the state-subsidized school or sometimes the city-subsidized public library opts to use taxpayer funds on reading material considered more appropriate, more educational or sometimes less controversial.
Even the Banned Book Week literature admits books are often challenged with good intentions. Young people are frequently exposed to writing either offensive or inappropriate.
Most Americans understand the power of writing. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin sparked a civil war, Salmon Rushdie has been in hiding for years after writing The Satanic Verses and Kenneth Starr's "Referral to Congress" has excited all of America.
Writing influences people. Books are able to help people form ideas, affect their motivations or drive them to action. So of course some people are concerned about what America's young people are reading.
It is the role of a caring parent to discourage their seven-year-old from perusing "The Starr Report" or Ted Kazynski's manifesto. Unfortunately, many schools are making available literature just as problematic. The Color Purple by Alice Walker won a Pulitzer Prize, but still contains scenes that might make Monica Lewinski blush. No one should be required to read such material, especially impressionable teenagers.
Here is the central debate over book banning. Banning opponents argue removing a book from library shelves harms education and tramples freedom.
There is a difference between government neutrality and government subsidy. American liberties do grant the freedom of speech. No matter how poor a citizen's literary skills, they can still type up a manuscript and try to get it published. Further, they can walk to the local copy store and print their own pamphlets as long as they avoid a few legal restraints such as libel.
There is no guarantee, however, anyone will ever read the finished copy. There is certainly no quarantee the taxpayers will purchase a few copies for their schools and public libraries.
Challenging or banning a book is truly harmless. In fact it is a form of capitalistic boycotting.
A concerned parent who challenges a book simply believes the subject matter is somehow harmful to their child at this particular level of development. Banned book opponents are concerned that this practice will lead to empty libraries. They fear no book will be acceptable to everyone. This is an extreme view and an unlikely scenario.
Americans have been educated for generations without reading graphic sexual descriptions and hate-filled literature.
School children should be protected from some material, from Ken Starr's report to Clan of the Cave Bear, schools have the responsibility to make sure students are not exposed to literature beyond their maturity.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.